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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

How ASC brought convertibles back from the dead

A funny thing started to happen when the American auto industry moved from the go-go '60s into the uncertain '70s. Over the course of the decade, Detroit's Big Three seemingly lost the will to build convertibles. In reality, the downfall of the American drop-top was deliberate and strategic.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/automotive-history/how-asc-brought-convertibles-back-from-the-dead/
79 REPLIES 79
hyperv6
Racer

I recall passing ACS on the Detroit freeway when in town.

They were often far from perfect convertibles as many were based on cars never intended to lose a roof. But it is true ACS really did start the move back and of the many companies often did the best work.

I recall the early Mustangs and how they popped and cracked when driving them. But with the return interest the automakers soon started engineering the convertibles to be stiffer and stronger. Today many are the stiffest chassis out there.

It was just sad the end of ASC and owner Heinz Prechter came to such a sad end.
BB66Vett
Intermediate Driver

Yes, I remember the news of his passing.
KenTennis
Pit Crew

Roush bought them.
And people keep saying 'Mustang.' But from 1984-1986 they produced convertibles on the Mercury Capri chassis. Much better looking than the Mustang versions from 1987-1990. I have owned a 1986 ascMcLaren since 2011. It has just over 24,000 miles on it. Every option. The Capri version has a Ford Turbo Thunderbird parts in the front suspension, the 5.0H.O. V-8, Sikkens paint, Recaro seats with stereo headrests and multiple seat adjustments and heated, air horns, radar detectors, 2 burglar alarms. They cost about the same as a new Corvette then.
Clark
Pit Crew

Love my '83 Riv convertible - just like the one in the Buick ad above, as the red in the other picture didn't look right on the PC's screen.
okfoz
Advanced Driver

Going off of memory, was not the 1983 Riv Convertible basically available in 2 flavors, Red and White?
Pappypete
Pit Crew

You forgot to add the C8 Corvette in current production convertible cars!
MrBill-1943
Advanced Driver

In my 78 years and owing cars since 1961 the one model I never owed was a convertible nor a T-Top. Sun roofs yes but am sure that cannot match the experience of a true open air, who cares about hair ride and is one that I may go to the big parking spot in the sky missing out on. Must say each and every one of the examples shown was a real Head Turner and enjoyed the history lesson.
Oldimpala
Detailer

Stop by and borrow one.

If you're ever in WNY, we'll take one out for a night...
MATTMERICA
Technician

Mr. Bill, you really aren't missing anything. Going for a quick spin in a convertible is ok - anything over 15-20 minutes and the wind drag, even if you can't feel it or really sense it - starts to take its toll. Go for a highway trip, say 45 minutes at 70 mph and you will notice the impact it has on you once you are out of the car. I have driven multiple convertibles from Philadelphia to Atlantic City and they are all over rated.
cslandry
Intermediate Driver

I completely disagree. I've owned BMW Z4 and 135i convertibles and have traveled long distances in those as well as a couple other convertible models owned by friends or rented. On mine, the top is down whenever possible.
TG
Gearhead

I have owned a couple of T-top cars and now a convertible. One of the things I have learned is that your interior has to be fastidiously clean. I had a plastic handle bag down the side of the passenger seat (which I was not aware of). The wind found it and it did about three laps around the passenger seat before planting right on my face. It was not a high point in my driving career. I have also found that you have to do a lot more trip planning with a drop top. I have been rained on halfway through a trip more than once, and there is always the consideration of do I have to stop anywhere where I need to lock the car
With that said, there is no greater sense of being free (with the notable exception of motorcycles which I do not mess with) than riding around on a beautiful day with the top down. I would never do it from Philly to AC in a million years though
Jimmyo
Intermediate Driver

Nah, I have a Miata and drive it even in cold weather with the top down. It's the next best thing to a motorcycle. The only time I don't use it is when the roads are covered in salt.
Tinkerah
Engineer

I think it depends on the era and model. My late 60's pony car is peacefully and quiet on the highway top down but my wife's mid-90's compact is discouragingly turbulent.
Duramaxriley
Intermediate Driver

Actually you are missing everything. I have owned multiple convertibles since 1981. I have driven up and down the east coast and all over the Blue Ridge mountain range. If you haven't enjoyed a spring or summer day driving around top less through the rolling mountains and hills, you really don't understand what you're talking about. The only thing that comes close is a motorcycle, but that's completely different as well. I started with a '74 Caprice, then a C5 Corvette, and finally a Bicentennial Edition Eldorado (the last full size ragtop)
RDeS
New Driver

Bill, consider going out to a car rental place and take out a convertible for the week-end during the summer. I have had two in my lifetime, now on my third and I am sixty-seven. Mind you these are 'British' sports cars. My current one is a '1969 MGB Mark II' which I only drive during the week-end summer time (May to Late August). Convertibles are not meant to be the 'only' car you drive, but the 'fun' car of memories.

Marv48
Intermediate Driver

I bought my first convertible when I was 67. It is so much fun driving it, wish I could drive year round! Now when looking at classics to buy the top has to drop.
dougking
Pit Crew

well you have missed the best way to travel. Mom's first car, the first time we had 2 cars, was a 66 VW rag top, followed a couple yrs later by my first car a 66 cutlass ragtop. that was in 70. since then:a 1961- 190 sl; two Fiat 124's (BIG Mistake) a 1979 jeep CJ7; an 86 Chrysler LeBaron; a 1996 LeBaron; a 1990 SAAB 900;then a 2003 Mustang I've had since '05, that i am just now selling, as i found a 99 Saab 9-3 with only 16,500 miles on it. Every one a ragtop. Drove The Saab from Charleston last Thursday- top down all the way to Asheville before i put the top up. Also have a 67 Newport- yep, a rag top and this summer 2 friends and i took it to the Field of dreams and on to SE South Dakota, and back to Cincinnati, almost all with the top down. If you don't like being wind blown your not a ragtop guy. I'm sure Matt and the other ragtop haters below is a nice guy but sounds like he hasn't and never will appreciate what real traveling is all about.
Tim
Technician

Everyone should own at least one convertible in their lifetime. I had the opportunity to own one with a very well-executed triple layer top that never leaked, looked great and was power-operated, so it was easy to go top-up or top-down in no time. There will be another convertible in my future. 😄
fredwhyzer
Pit Crew

Convertible drivers look silly. Especially older men alone. They just look well, stupid sitting there with the a/c cranked feeling ridicules. They have come and gone many times over the years. They look crummy out on a busy noisy expressway. I knew a guy who would keep asking his daughter to go off with him in his convertible. She said, "No dad, I'm busy." VW used to build "cute" little convertibles. But when they stopped the Beetle, the world stopped and they kept messing up. The Cabrio was nice. But underpowered. The "new" Beetle is and was a toilet. Fat woman in their 40's type of car.
Oldimpala
Detailer

Says a guy who's probably never owned one.

Every single antique car I've owned and enjoyed is a ragtop, from a '46 Series 62 to a S1 DHC to a R129. I owned one antique hardtop (a very rare '68 T1 Park Ward LWB car), sold it, because I wanted something else open-air. I do own an old truck; it's as much utility to bring home 2x4s, trees, and plywood as it is to tow said open-air cars.

When I'm out on a warm summer evening, top down, in a vintage Corvette with my wife, or with the roof pulled back on my '63 Impala, and my family with me... My daughter keeps asking if we can take the 2CV out, even when it's 40 degrees in early spring, because she wants to ride in a ragtop.

As an aging man (not *quite* old yet), if I'm out in one of my cars alone, I'm alright if you think I look stupid. You're the least of my worries. 🙂

You wanna collect fixed roof vehicles, great. I believe if you're going to own something impractical that rarely cool temps, let alone rain, snow, or the like... Go for it. Make it completely impractical.

An ex owned a '01 Cabrio. Other than typical VW electrical issues, and being incredibly underpowered, it was a fun little car. She loved it. Triple insulated roof worked fine in all weather. Rabbit Cabrios are similar. Great little vehicles. Try one, they're cheap enough...
5869Corvette
Intermediate Driver

Old men driving alone! Well I’ve been driving Corvettes with and without a passenger (girlfriend then wife) for 40 years. I can absolutely confirm that driving alone is a great experience. You go where you want to go, listen to what you want to listen to and drive the way you want to drive. And pre-wife, that spare seat sometimes ended up with a very nice shape in it. Clearly you have missed out! Too bad for you!
Bunka
Detailer

I am a 79 year old man. Last year, late summer, I was driving alone and stopped at a red light and a white pick up pulled up next to me. There were two cute young girls in it. Young is a subjective term because at my age most women are younger. Anyways they took a look at my car and asked me if I was married. I had the top down playing Pink Floyd in my like new, mid sixties German sports car. They would, no doubt, not have boosted this old man's ego if I had my wife of 55 years with me. In all fairness and honesty, at my age, when I get the attention of a young woman, its really all about the car. Yes, I listen to what I want, as loud as I want and can take corners as reckless as I want. Seventy four HP sort of limits to the as fast as I want.
SilentBoy741
Instructor

I'm not sure how your wife is going to react when she reads that you kind of nudged her out of the "very nice shape" category there... Hope that doghouse is heated!
5869Corvette
Intermediate Driver

I could have worded that better! She has a great shape and has permanent ownership of that seat. Cheers
Rider79
Technician

You are entitled to your opinion, even if it is wrong. ;<) Nothing looks better - anywhere - than a shapely convertible with the top down. As for daughters, both of ours loved riding in our convertibles. Glad I apparently have more fun in life than you!
HondaCollector
Intermediate Driver

Being an "old man" is a state of mind. I do not consider myself old but I do have 73 years of experience. I have owned convertibles or T-top cars for the last 52 years and I don't plan to stop. I currently own 4 sports cars(2 are convertibles) and 2 motorcycles. I usually ride or drive one of them everyday.If you like to maintain that "old guy" image go ahead and sit in your rocking chair. I prefer the wind in my hair, the sun in my face and the rush of being on a curvy road!
BAJA68
Pit Crew

Lighten up Fred.
TG
Gearhead

When I am out in my convertible with the top down, the experience is about me and not the people looking at me
tanglefoot
Intermediate Driver

couldn't disagree with you more.
BB66Vett
Intermediate Driver

I worked for Cadillac Motor and my boss bought one of the last convertibles, a special run of white on white versions. Kept it in his garage for years while making payments on it, after a while it began to rust. He couldn't get $12,000 for it and I told him the best thing to do is put it on the road and make it a daily driver.
Gary_Bechtold
Specialist

Pretty cool story. I remember the ASC/McLaren stuff from back in the day.
JBBearcat
Advanced Driver

In 1979 I bought a new Mustang This fastback...the first year of the Fix body.
Price: $7500 with every option.
I went to LA and saw a custom convertible, As I recall the conversion cost was something like $12000. I still have the brochure.

Over the years I have had a Miata NA, two Jeeps (CJ-5 and M38A1), a Mercedes SL convertible, and a Barris roadster. I
Today, three of our six cars are open (Jeep, roadster, SL).
I have enjoyed them all.
On a nice day out here In the country there is nothing better.
Life is too short to drive sedans.

pcchuck
Intermediate Driver

There is nothing like a convertible on a summer night... At 72 I have been driving for 55 years and have had a convertible all but 6 of those years. The first was a 2 year old '63 Valiant conv.. a Christmas gift from my parents. Now they became second cars... In '73 I bought an MGA to restore and had it 27 years. Then a new 2001 Mitsu Eclipse for 15 years abslutely zero issues with it... a VERY underratede car. Currently a used 2008 Toyota Solara. I missed having a sports car so I bought a very nice TR6... drove it 50 miles and didn't like it. VERY different from the MG. Sold it at breakeven price... and last Summer bought a 23k mile '06 Solstice. Don't like it either... hope to break even in this crazy high market. I'd love to buy a new Mustang to replace the Toyota but the color choices are so limited. Now looking at a Buick Cascada... but prices are crazy high now. There is nothing like a convertible on a summer night...
Theo
New Driver

Nice article! I was head of engineering at both Cars & Concepts in the '80s and year later at ASC. Just one point, Cars and Concepts build the K car convertibles introduced in Spring of 1982. Buick Convertible was also introduced in Spring of 1982. Not sure which came first. Prechter went on to become a mover and shaker in the industry, and a good friend. Glad to see him remembered.
Pj1
New Driver

The claim that the Big 3 got out convertibles by choice, due to improved A/C systems and declining sales, is utter nonsense! They got out of convertibles due to regulatory uncertainty from the Feds. It was widely understood at the time that Fed DOT was going to regulate convertibles out of existence due to safety concerns. This is why the industry stopped developing convertibles. Look to the importers of the time as evidence. The Triumph TR7 and Jaguar XJS were both developed as hardtops precisely because of the perception that they wouldn't be able to sell convertibles into the U.S. by the time the cars were ready for market. Does anyone seriously think these cars were developed as hardtops because BL thought they'd sell better as hardtops than as convertibles?!
Rick2
Instructor

There was only one car ever designed and sold in this country that could meet the proposed roll over regulations that were by the way never implemented. Ladies & gentleman-the Fiat X1/9
TG
Gearhead

I knew a guy who had one of them, and he had to pop the top out to make room for his head
Rider79
Technician

Our 1984 Mustang GT convertible has survived almost 160,000 miles, without becoming overly creaky and flexy; guess it was well-braced when converted.
BatmanRR
Intermediate Driver

Convertible D. 1959 Porsche 356A Super. bought 1966. Now that was a fun car! It went to retirement 1976 or so, too much rust. Replaced by a Porsche 914, removable top. At that time I got into motorcycles. I didn't need a convertible. Then as I was considering the one thing in life that I was missing I went out and bought a 2009 Shelby Mustang GT500 convertible. A car that is my most fun car in life. Garage kept, still looks new. Ford is not making this version anymore. So I guess this one is a keeper.
MATTMERICA
Technician

Meh. Convertibles are overrated. Go on a 3 hour highway drive in your roofless car and then tell me how you feel. And I have done it hundreds of times.
5869Corvette
Intermediate Driver

It’s all about the road you are on. If you jump in a drop top and drive 70 on an expressway, I totally agree it ain’t fun. If however you take the roads less travelled you experience something very different. The smell of spring or fresh cut hay; the sound of your engine when gearing down as you come into a curve so that you keep the revs up so you can full on accelerate when you get past the apex (more exhaust notes, especially with side pipes). The ability to look around without B pillars spoiling the view. Convertible are a product of an earlier time when things weren’t as crowded or controlled. Enjoy them for what they offer. When you need to go 70 to get from point A to B in a hurry, jump in the brand new sedan or pickup with all the creature comforts. Both are good!
Tinkerah
Engineer

Hundreds of times? Couldn't've been all that bad or you would've put the roof up,
Bertone780
Detailer

Nice to see Ricardo Montalban posing next to the Rich Corinthian Leather trimmed Cordoba.
pancake6
New Driver

my sister had a 49 ford and 59 Impala Rag Top, I bought my first in '79 and currently have 3. I now qualify as a senior citizen going top less; I have certainly reached an age that I care less what other people think. I would suggest the party that thinks I look foolish TRY IT they might like it!
miata93
Instructor

The people that laugh probably feel left out and are envious.
SteveA
Intermediate Driver

You guys who don't like convertibles on "a noisy interstate should buy a Rand McNally and follow the green dotted lines on the quiet curves of a two lane.
miata93
Instructor

DeLorme® Atlas & Gazetteer

The best !!

miata93
Instructor

A good convertible is one the you love driving with the top down.
A GREAT convertible is one that you hate driving when the top is up.
It is not fatiguing to me to drive a car if the car is engaging to drive and has good road feel.
I drove the circle route around Lake Michigan with the top down. The Mackinac Bridge was awesome. When I drove from Mid Iowa to the Chicago suburbs along the Lincoln Highway (US 30), I must have seen only a dozen other cars and trucks on most parts of the road.
Johnpsu71
New Driver

Enjoy the ride. First convertible was a new '71 TR6. Probably the most fun car ever, Since I had an MG, 3 Vettes and a 64.5 Mustang in Burgundy/White. When the Queen drives it there's always a crowd of guys looking it over and oohing and ahhing . When I drive it around the Low Country, I get the women and girls who could be my daughters. Yes, I know they are looking at the car, but it's still cool. So, what if my hair looks like S*** when I get out of the car? it can be fixed in 30 seconds